Take one five-mile stretch of waterfront, mix in a forward-thinking mayor and two groups of creative, resourceful students, and what do you get? A collection of creative plans for the re-use of the Delaware River waterfront in the suburb of Bensalem—plus a rewarding experience for high school and graduate students.
Through Penn Praxis, the Penn Design clinic that gives students real-world experience, graduate students led by Adjunct Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture Cindy Sanders developed creative ideas for use of the diverse and challenging waterfront landscape. Bensalem high school students participated in an afterschool program where they learned about the cultural history and geology of the area and developed projects of their own.
Bensalem Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo approached Penn Praxis with the project because he “really wanted to get students’ energy and ideas and out-of-the box thinking so that we could, in effect, jump-start a professional process,” says Harris Steinberg C’78 Gar ’82, executive director of Penn Praxis and adjunct assistant professor of architecture.
The resulting proposals were inventive and wildly diverse, says Steinberg—fitting for a piece of land that has been used for everything from mansions to boathouses to big industry. Steinberg says that some Penn students chose to create a natural design with plants that can actually pull toxins out of the soil over time on brown fields or undeveloped parts of the land. Another student proposed building a series of hills to connect areas split apart by I-95. Others analyzed the historical nature of the site and proposed the creation of an arts district or a town center in old warehouses.
“It’s so critical to all of us to think about waterfronts in a critical way,” says Steinberg. That’s especially important in an area like Bensalem, a Bucks County suburb just north of Philadelphia where development exploded after World War II.
Steinberg says the ideas from the Penn and Bensalem high school students have served as the basis of a professional study of 20 miles of riverfront, funded by a grant from the Delaware River Port Authority. “There’s a gold mine of opportunities,” he says. “Bensalem seems to be a little bit ahead of the curve.”
Originally published on January 27, 2005